This is an editorial. While the general views expressed in this are for the most part shared by all of us here at Maidens of the Kaleidoscope, I am strictly speaking for myself in this article. [Editor’s note: This is not a discussion about a particular event that happened at AWA but more how to handle gender variant persons and why it is important to do so. Details of that event are of strictly my own feelings at the time, and names have not been mentioned in order to keep discussion focused away from it.]
I’d like to take a break from the revelry over Anime Weekend Atlanta to touch on a subject that I will admit has a very personal touch to me. In this community we have a wide variety of characters and a wide variety of personalities. We cherish and enjoy people from all walks of life. In a fandom so diverse, it’s no surprise that there’s a significant number of gender variant folk within our ranks.
Those of you who have been around here know I’m a transgendered girl. I won’t go too deeply into my backstory, just the relevant parts in relation to this community and to convention going in general. If you’re interested you’re more than welcome to check out my Tumblr and follow along. I came into this community a long time ago and latched onto it as a safe haven. The games had characters I could identify with and relate to. During my life, video games have been the one escape for me to express myself in a world where I was not allowed to. I latched feverishly onto any female character I could play. At the time, having the playable characters in a video game series, let alone the whole cast, be female was unheard of.
Megatokyo was the first online community I was a major part of. Dom, one of the regulars on the front page blog, ranted about PCB one day and began my long love affair with Touhou. I have always liked that side scroller shooter kind of game; it’s in my DNA. I was born the night my mother received Gradius on the NES as a gift and I spent huge junks of my childhood playing Alpha Mission and then later sinking quarters into the NEOGEO cabinets on base. So when I heard through some of the people I hung out with on Megatokyo that there was a Touhou IRC channel called #shrinemaiden, I jumped over immediately.
When I joined Megatokyo, I had originally planned on presenting female, but I didn’t have the confidence to so I avoided it entirely. I had tried to avoid the gender question there for the longest time, refusing to really identify myself and keeping it vague. In 2005 I made my first excursion to a convention and I went to Otakon for the first time with the Megatokyo folk. I was in no position to pass as female so it became known I was “male”. I didn’t have the fortitude at the time to come out so I kind of just accepted it. Given that there was some crossover between Megatokyo and MotK, I was afraid that I’d potentially be outed if I openly identified female here as well so didn’t question it when I got called he and him. Then one day in 2007 I had enough. I could not take it anymore that I was being gendered male despite strongly identifying female my entire life. I wrote a huge coming out letter and dumped it in most of the IRC channels I was in at the time. The fallout was, as expected, pretty strong, but outside of a handful of malcontents the response here was overwhelmingly positive. I wasn’t ran out of town for being trans, and while people weren’t using female pronouns overnight, it’s by and large fallen away as an issue at least online. Conventions are a whole different story though.
Conventions have always been tough for me. I’ve always wanted to go to them and revel in my nerdiness and share it with my other fellow dorks. Many of you probably don’t know me in person despite my very strong presence and position online. I am very sociable online, where I don’t have to worry about my presentation. As much as I like socializing online though, I really want to connect with people in real life. But once meatspace is involved, I tend to lock up. For the longest time, despite hanging out on #shrinemaiden and going to the same conventions as other Touhouers, I did not hang out with them. Why? Because I was presenting as a girl online, but I definitely was not in any position to present as such in person.
Despite having gone to cons every year since 2005, I did not do anything with the Touhou conventioneers until Anime USA 2011. I had stayed with some of the Shrinemaidens at Otakon 2011 but I did not spend any time with them, I pretty much ducked in and out of the room and hid as much as I could. AUSA was the first time I was going exclusively to hang out with them, and I was scared stiff. I was so stressed out, scared out of my mind wondering what people would think of me. Most of the people I had never met in person yet, they all knew me as female online, but I was in no position to present as female. When I got there nobody gave me any trouble though. Nobody made fun of me. While some people still used male pronouns, I distinctly remember Solamarle going out of his way to use female pronouns with me, along with a few others. It really lifted my mood, and it made that particular convention the best I had ever been to.
I wasn’t comfortable enough at the time to correct people, so it meant a lot that people recognized and respected my identity despite the fact I was in no position to present that way. From that point I felt comfortable enough to spend more time with the Touhous. Ohayocon and Katsucon 2013 ended up being the first conventions I went completely as a female. Amongst the Touhous for the most part I was accepted readily. While I’ve been a recluse at conventions, now that I’m comfortable presenting female I intend on having a much larger physical presence. Already I’ve gone from one con a year to four, with a possible fifth now with AWA being a huge success. I plan on doing more with the Midwest Touhou community, as despite living in Ohio for the past 8 years I’ve made little attempt to connect with other Touhou fans here. I have been presenting female full time since May of this year. Nobody for the most part even dares to question my gender nowadays. That is, except at conventions.
Conventions are the one place I still get misgendered on a significant and regular basis though. And it bothers me a lot, especially now that I’m presenting female full time. You’d think the one place that should be a safe zone, the place most likely to be accepting of gender variance, would be the place where I’d get the least amount of trouble. I imagine part of it comes from people being a bit more sensitive to crossplay and being able to read people better, or at the very least, not assuming that female attire necessarily means female person and visa versa. But even then I’ve been called fag and tranny, a guy in a dress. Even when not maliciously hassled I’ve been misgendered male despite presenting female. Despite being full time and on hormones since May, despite clearly being in female attire or female cosplay the entire time, I was sir’ed by hotel staff at AWA and people in the dealers room. I was misgendered when I was introduced in front of everyone at the Touhou Fan Panel, and it absolutely destroyed me. At my first very public appearance speaking as head of MotK I was introduced as a guy and I was ignored while I tried to correct. [Editors note: at the time I felt like my attempts to correct were ignored, I do not know if they were actually ignored or just misunderstood]
Whether or not it was an accident or intentional, it didn’t matter, the effect was the same. I was devastated. I have a very big problem with my voice, to the point where I have pretty much refuse to use voice chat like Skype with strangers and there are very few recordings online of me speaking. To be misgendered on my first speech in front of one of the largest Touhou fan gatherings… the feeling was horrifying. I’m still not sure how I managed to keep my composure during that speech because I sure didn’t afterwards. I ended up skipping out during the trivia panel to give myself a breather as I was going to break down right then and there.
I’m not here sharing this seeking a pity party though. I’m resilient, I’ll bounce back from this. The point of this article is more to educate. I’m sharing my experiences about this in order to educate others on how to avoid this situation and to avoid discomfort and pain to others who may be in similar situations. And hopefully, so that eventually these incidents will not happen again.
Now not everything was bad. The AWA staff was very accommodating. They accepted my request to put my preferred name on my press badge when I explained I was trans and I didn’t have my name changed yet. While I wasn’t perfectly gendered by every staff member, when I corrected them they apologized and made sure to address me properly. This is the kind of behavior that needs to happen more often. When dealing with such a large community with a significant gender variance, there’s a bit more etiquette and sensitivity that needs to be shown. I know it’s a running joke that Touhou is a bunch of guys in dresses, but it’s really not nice to be assumed I’m crossplaying just because I’m in a fandom that has such a significant number of them.
Here’s a few things you can do as part of this community to make this a more welcoming and safe place to be in for people of all shades of gender:
1) Do not assume someone’s gender. Even if they look one way they may not necessarily be that. Avoid using gendered pronouns unless you absolutely know they’re ok with them. “They” is a perfectly acceptable gender neutral pronoun if you need to use one. Do not use “it” ever.
2) If you misgender someone and they correct you, listen! Apologize and don’t do it again. Don’t ever just shrug it off with a whatever, or worse, challenge them on it. It may not be a big deal to you but to someone who is trans or gender variant it is a very very big deal. Respecting someone’s gender can make or break the difference between someone having a wonderful day and someone being crushed for the rest of the con.
3) If you don’t know, ask! If they’re not comfortable and they tell you so then don’t pry. Speaking as myself, I am not offended if someone asks me. Someone asking me what my preferred pronouns are or my gender before using them means a great deal, instead of potentially assuming the wrong thing. While it’s nice to get gendered correctly without asking, I know at a convention it’s more likely to happen that someone might get confused, so I’d much rather get asked than get called male and then have to correct them. While I’m comfortable with correcting people now, not everyone who is gender variant is. I know I wasn’t in the past.
You guys are already a great community, which is why I’ve poured my heart and soul into here. And I feel like we can be an even greater community if we take the time to respect everyone and try to provide a safe and welcoming environment to everyone. I’m public about my status because I want to set an example with myself. I know as a figurehead within the Western Touhou Community, there’s already a significant spotlight on me. I don’t shirk away from my status because a cursory Google search would probably let someone connect the dots and figure out I’m trans. I own up to it because I want to show this community we are a safe and welcoming environment, and that we accept everyone no matter who they are or how they identify.
So let’s continue making this place great, and make not only online, but conventions as well a safe and welcoming environment. Be mindful and respectful of others, do not assume someone’s gender by their appearance, and if you do mess up and get corrected, apologize! It’s things like these that will make Touhou and visual culture fans the greatest fans in the world!